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What is a hostile work environment and how does it lead to unlawful workplace harassment?

Hostile work environment

Everyone goes through a difficult period in the workplace. But there is a big difference between a few rough patches involving coworkers and an outright hostile work environment. A hostile work environment occurs when certain individuals behave in a way that makes it difficult for other employees to do their jobs. Those who don’t partake in hostile behavior may feel intimidated or uncomfortable when attending work.

In most cases, people feel uncomfortable at work when they experience or witness sexual harassment, discrimination or bullying. First, it’s important to acknowledge that not all forms of workplace harassment or bullying are illegal. For example, if your boss favors other employees over you or yells at you for no apparent reason, this isn’t necessarily illegal.

What constitutes unlawful harassment?

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment becomes illegal when it violates:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – This law specifically prohibits workplace discrimination against an individual under a protected class. That means employers can’t discriminate against a current or prospective employee on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex or national origin.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) – Under this law, employers can’t discriminate against current or prospective employees ages 40 or older on the basis of age.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) – This law prohibits workplace discrimination based on a qualified disability. This includes deafness, blindness, epilepsy, intellectual disabilities, cancer, mobility limitations, or other serious disabilities.

Workplace harassment is unlawful when it becomes severe or pervasive and unwelcome. Common examples include:

  • Inappropriate or intimidating physical contact
  • Ongoing jokes that are sexually based or discriminatory
  • Racial slurs
  • Threats and insults
  • Ongoing mockery and ridicule
  • Wielding offensive pictures or paraphernalia
  • Interfering with work performance
  • Bribery (especially that involving sexual acts in exchange for incentives)
  • Retaliation against an employee for asserting his or her rights

Who is responsible for addressing a hostile work environment?

Employers should provide employees with a handbook on a company’s workplace harassment policies. Sometimes this information isn’t communicated clearly enough. When unlawful harassment occurs on the job, it’s critical that you bring it to the attention of your company’s human resources (HR) department or higher management. The problem could be solved after HR conducts an investigation and takes disciplinary action.

Employees who experience unlawful harassment sometimes find that they don’t get anywhere with HR. If the problem can’t be resolved, then it may be time to discuss the next steps by speaking to an experienced Ohio employment law attorney.

Contact our Ohio workplace harassment lawyers today

Nobody should ever feel intimidated or uncomfortable when going to work. Unfortunately, workplace harassment is a widespread problem. That’s why the workplace harassment lawyers at Gibson Law, LLC are committed to holding employers accountable. If you experienced unlawful harassment at work and your company’s management or HR department failed to put a stop to it, then our legal team will get to the bottom of it.

Our law firm serves workers in the greater Cincinnati and Dayton areas. Contact us online or call us to go over your legal options.

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